Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Self defence training - are you scared enough?

Do you ever think of why you are doing karate? I expect that between us we have a variety of reasons – general fitness, sociability, sport and competition or maybe we like the aesthetics of martial arts. Some of us may have slightly loftier aims of mental and spiritual development. However, all these goals can be achieved through other types of activity such as aerobics, gymnastics, dance, team sports, yoga or meditational practices. Therefore, there must be another aim that binds us all together – a desire to learn self-defence.

For some of us learning effective self-defence will be the main, overriding aim of training in karate and for others it will be a secondary consideration. How important the self-defence element is to you, may depend on your perception of your risk of being attacked and needing to use it. This will be related to your upbringing, past experiences, job and probably your gender.

If you were brought up in the rough end of town, witnessed or were involved in several street fights and/or work as a bouncer , or, as a woman, you’ve been the victim/witness of domestic violence, then learning karate may be all about self-defence and not much else. However, if you are a middle class housewife who’s never even seen a fight or ever felt threatened by violence in any way, or, a mild mannered man who knows how to stay away from trouble, then your motivation to really learn self-defence may be much lower.

Whatever your circumstances, learning self-defence must be in the back of your mind somewhere because you are reading this blog and you’ve joined a karate club; in which case, you will probably agree that there is no point in approaching the self-defence elements of karate in a half-hearted fashion. Yet many of us do!

However remote the possibility that we may get attacked, if it happens, it may be a life or death situation. You will either get attacked or you won’t – it’s all or nothing. So is there any point in only half-heartedly preparing for such an eventuality, however remote the possibility seems?

There is a Japanese phrase – Ichi-go, ichi-e, which means, “one encounter, one chance”. This is what it will be like if it ever happens to you – you will get only one chance to defend yourself, so you have to make your training count. Do you train as if you are preparing yourself for a real encounter? Are you scared? If you train half-heartedly then you are clearly not scared enough.

So, what is a real fight like? Obviously your attacker won’t hold out their arm or leg six inches from your body whilst you think about what to do with it. Neither will they casually hold onto your lapels and wait patiently for you to respond whilst having a nice chat about something. They won’t let go as soon as you attempt to put a lock on or fall over as soon as you start to push or pull them.

In reality, an attack is fast, furious and unrelenting – at least a man on man or woman on woman attack will most likely be like that. The attack generally consists of repetitive punching and kicking. There will no ‘thinking’ time, no time to use complicated techniques, no time at all. The person who seizes control first will be the winner. You will only seize control if you have trained to do so and practiced to the point where you need ‘no time’ to think.

A man on woman attack is a slightly different scenario. According to crime statistics, the most common ways in which a woman is attacked by a man is by being grabbed. The five most common ways of attack are by variations on the wrist grab or arm and wrist grab. This is followed by bear hugs and strangles. A man rarely starts the ‘fight’ by striking the woman, though striking may come later if the woman needs to be subdued.

So, how will you react if you are attacked? Well, according to the experts in self-defence training, “you will fight as you train”. They also say that, “You won’t rise to the level of your expectations but instead you will fall to the level of your training”. Depending on your attitude to training this will either sound encouraging or alternatively, make you very scared!

Perhaps this is a good time to examine you own attitude and motivation to your training. Take kata for instance. It is said that when a lay person watches a kata performance they should recognise that they are watching a ‘fight’ in progress. Not only that, they should realise that you are winning! Do you perform your kata to win the fight?

Then there’s kihon (basics). Do you ever get bored standing in rows drilling basic punches, kicks and blocks? Maybe you think that you’ve been doing this so long now you can do those kihon combinations with your eyes shut. Good! That means you’re reaching a state of ‘no mind’ (mushin). Remember, you’ll have no time to think in a real fight, a state of mushin is what is required – so keep drilling!

And what about kumite? We do light contact point kumite; it’s not fighting as such, it’s sport. So does it have any value in self-defence training? It depends how you look at it but I think it has a lot of value. It teaches you to deal with confrontation, control your fear, speed up your reaction times, deal with unpredictability and ultimately achieve a state of mushin. The best ‘fighters’ just spar and don’t think but you have to train extensively to reach this mental state.

These three cornerstones of karate: kata, kihon and kumite, all feed into the ultimate aim of self-defence training. So if you are giving your all to these elements of training then it makes sense to give your all to the self-defence element of training too. Remember itchi-go, itchi-e – one encounter, one chance…..make sure you will win.
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Journeyman said...

You've hit upon some very very important points. Each training method has it's advantages and disadvantages but we must always look at the combat effectiveness of that training. Losing sight of the goal of surviving a violent encounter puts you, and those you train with, in danger. It is a disservice to you both.

That's not to say you shouldn't enjoy and experience fun and conversation in training, but just going through the motions is a dangerous thing to do. The mental side of training is as important, if not more so, than the physical. And like you said, you may only have one chance to come out on top.

Another great post.

I came across some interesting posts on another blog discussing different training methods and their affect on combat effectiveness. You've touched upon several of them in your post and I think your followers may find them of value.

With your permission, the link can be found on my blog at:

. said...

Great post as always Sue.

I've been mulling over writing a blog post which picks up some of the points you've raised here. We also do light contact sparring and for me that's really helped me get over the fear of being hit. It's (thankfully!) not something I was used to and I think should I have gotten in a real fight before I started my training I would have frozen with the shock of the first blow and not been able to react at all. Now I'm more used to dealing with being struck so that moment of hesitation isn't so great.

We also train in escapes and control which I think are really useful - especially as you've said with the likelihood of male on female attacks being grabs rather than strikes. Working on the muscle memory to react to these grabs again reduces that moment of hesitation.

I'm also learning to keep with my new karate mantra "work with what you've got". When I first started training I would often do as you've said and ask my opponent to restart on an exercise if I didn't get it right first time. As I've progressed more I now just follow through with the technique to a conclusion (even if it's a difference conclusion from the one I was supposed to have). I know my initial reaction in a real situation isn't always going to be what I would want it to be, so I'm learning to work with my reactions rather than trying to fit my opponent to what I'm supposed to be doing.

Now I'm waffling a bit! LOL. Sorry. Your posts always get my thinking!


Sue C said...

Hi Journeyman, I'm a follower of John Coles' blog too so I've read those posts. I like his scientific, research based approach to writing about martial arts. You are most welcome to advertise any links to yours or Johns blog.

Marie, overcoming fear of getting hurt (or hurting someone) is one of the biggest barriers for women to overcome in martial arts and is the thing that holds them back the most. It sounds like you are getting to grips with dealing with that psychological barrier, so well done.

Felicia said...

Wow - we just had this discussion in class last night. The chat was about appropriate resistance and knowing your distance/strength so that you don't hurt your uke when drilling or doing self-defense techniques. We had to respond to an attack with a combination of two ippon kumite techniques. For some of us, the "Stop! It's too late because you'd be dead by now!" command came as soon as we began our defense. Lack-luster and without "umph" and intensity, some of the techniques would not have stopped anything trying to attack but a mosquito, unfortunately. The suggestion from sensei was to approach it every time we train it as if our lives depend on it - because some day, it might.

That being said, I agree - somewhat - with the concept that how you train will be how you respond in a "real" situation. But adrenalin is a powerful x factor. Like Marie indicated, getting used to getting hit (and hitting, as you suggested) is half the battle, but I just think it's hard to emulate a true attack situation in the safe environment of the training hall. In my mind, I KNOW it's not really "live" because I KNOW no one there is really trying to hurt me. That adrenalin rush is not there. I guess I'm just not scared enough!

But it's different for me in the ring at a tournament. Something just clicks and I'm much more aggressive, less apt to think and more apt to just do, much more "it's YOU or ME!" in my approach. I don't know my opponent's intentions - and I'm not waiting to get hit to find out. Fear makes me react differently somehow.

I say all that to say that I agree with you about half-stepping with any of your training on the three k's or practically applied self-defense. All are necessary parts of training for certain.

Great post, Sue :-)

Felicia said...
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Felicia said...
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Sue C said...

Hi Felicia, I agree with you - the adrenaline rush is lacking in the safety of dojo training and this may affect the way we respond. Of course, the adrenaline effect is not called the 'fight, fright or flight' complex for nothing. We don't know how we will respond to our adrenaline surge until it happens - will we fight, freeze or be able to run away quickly? Freezing is obviously the worst scenario. I think any situation we can be put in where we get the chance to see how our adrenaline surge affects us is valuable, so tournaments, free sparring, even gradings can help us learn how to control our responses to adrenaline surges so that they are appropriate. It sounds like you have your adrenaline surges under control - at least in tournaments!

Michele said...

Excellent post Sue!

Your statement about "perception of risk" is a key point. As a teenager/young adult, the need for self-defense was not on my radar screen. I will also admit that the reason I started karate had nothing to do with self-defense.

Attending my first self-defense class as 7th kyu changed my perception forever. The instructor, Bobbi Snyder, had the participants sit in a circle and share their experiences with violence. They spoke about rape, incest and domestic abuse.

That was the day self-defense became an important part of my training.

Sue C said...

Hi Michele, I think one of the drawbacks of karate compared to some other martial arts is that there is a lot of emphasis on 'indirect training' such as single person kata and kihon. It is easy for one to take their eye off the ball and forget that karate is ultimately about learning self defence. An occasional reality check like you got at that self-defence course is probably a good idea to re-focus the class on what they are really trying to achieve.

John Coles said...

SueC - you are teasing me. Reading your blog and reading the comments and your responses to those comments ... I am gagging at wanting to address so many of these issues. I'm (egotistically) hoping your interest in the subject, or at the very least your blog, was inspired by my blogs on training methods and their potential 'insidious effect' of combat effectiveness. Fight-or-flight and the physiological response which includes the 'adrenalin dump' and its attending effects on psychological and physical performance - so much, so much, information which informs our hitherto limited understanding of the subject. Women's fear of being hurt which you mention - so much, so much, information on pain which broadens and deepens our understanding of the subject and which I've applied to the realm of close combat. ... You are confirming to me that my work is of interest and importance and I am literally gagging here wanting to share it with everyone.

Sue C said...

Hi John, get that book published now!!! Or I'll just keep teasing. LOL. Seriously though, I think the psychological issues which affect out attitude to training and ultimately our responses in a real situation are not well understood so if you can enlighten us through your book then that would be of great value to us all. I personally think that there are big gender differences in men and women's attitudes, fears and responses that are not always recognised and addressed in the average dojo. Are you investigating gender differences in martial arts training?

John Coles said...

Interesting you should raise the gender issue. Fight-or-flight (FoF) is often referred to within any discipline to do with close combat (no matter how you describe it). FoF is often described in terms of a physiological response and a behavioural response. However, in 2000 an article was printed in Phsycological Review which described the female response to threat. They termed it tend-and-befriend. The same basic hormones are released but when they meet the sex hormones different combinations result in different responses, including behavioural responses. They explain why this is the case in evolutionary terms, and, that it is a 'tendency' as he are not prisoners of our genes or hormones.

Sue C said...

John, thanks for that. I suspect that the differing male/female behavioural responses to an adrenaline dump are part nature and part nurture, which at least means (as you said) that we are not prisioners to them.

Saundra Tosh said...

With how unpredictable our society is today, it is always advantageous to know self defense. However, your skill would be useless if you do not have a strong presence of mind. As you develop your martial arts skill, it should come with a strong awareness with what is happening around you. Sometimes, people panic too much. That is the point where one can’t use the skills he has learned from martial arts training. Remember to always keep calm.

Sue C said...

Hi Sandra, excellent point. Thanks for commenting.


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